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September 26, 2005

Version 5.03 of Activ E-Book Compiler BETA Release

Category: Company Announcements, eBook Marketing & Publishing — Answers 2000 @ 5:02 am

The beta release of version 5.03 of Activ E-Book Compiler is now available. For details Click here.

Version 5.03 adds a number of important security fixes, and we believe it is by far the best of the 5.0x beta series so far. That said, it is still a beta release, so bear that in mind if testing the software. (And as mentioned on the download page, please do not distribute eBooks made using the beta version).

One related topic that I thought would also be commenting on is the general security of installing eBooks or other files on your computer.

There are really two relationships which we need to consider:

  1. Does the eBook/file do what the author intended (or at least programmed - there’s no accounting for bugs)?
  2. Does the user of the eBook/file trust the author and distributor of the eBook/file?

The improvements in version 5.03 are really intended to address the first point.

As regards the second point, it is not really something that we are able to address. This is because the EXE files created by Activ E-Book Compiler are programs, and as such can do whatever the author/distributor wrote into them (particularly by using the scripting features and APIs in Activ E-Book Compiler) . This places a great deal of power in the hands of authors and distributors - and with great power, comes great responsibility.

A long time ago, we considered carefully this issue, and came to the conclusion that we wouldn’t attempt to artificially limit authors’ power, because we wanted to allow authors to produce better and more sophisticated products. Moreover, being EXE files, any attempt to artificially limit authors’ power would be doomed to failure - because they could either “patch” the EXEcutable (there are tools a sufficiently skilled person can use to patch any executable), or they could simply use another tool (such as a programming language like C++, Delphi or Visual Basic), to produce EXE programs to do whatever they wanted.

In case you are wondering why I am considering both the author and the distributor - the fact is that a sufficiently skilled distributor, with the right tools, could alter/patch an eBook EXE (or in fact any EXE) to do something other than the original author intended. While it may not be particularly likely (a malicious distributor would probably find it considerably easier to simply create their own malicious program rather than subvert somebody else’s existing program), it certainly isn’t impossible either.

In other words, all EXE files (whether made using our compiler or some other tool), always carry the possibility of security risks.

But the other side of the coin, not to be forgotten, is that the EXE format offers great power. A skilled author can develop products in EXE format that are simply not possible in other formats, for example:

  • Want to write an eBook that processes forms locally? You can do that with Activ E-Book Compiler.
  • Want to write an eBook that remembers information (like the user’s settings) in a file? You can do that with with Activ E-Book Compiler.
  • Want to write an eBook that allows users to pick the graphics they want, and save them to their hard-disk for later use? You can do that with with Activ E-Book Compiler.
  • Want to write an eBook that can launch external applications? You can do that with Activ E-Book Compiler
  • Want to write an eBook that can play full-screen videos? You can do that too with Activ E-Book Compiler (it doesn’t include a built-in feature for this last one, but you could use the Multimedia Extension to incorporate this function.

Changing subject slightly, does this mean users would be safe, as far as eBooks/content are concerned, if the files delivered in some other format? Unfortunately not necessarily…

The first thing to remember is that there would be a lot less content (and much of would offer much less) without the EXE format. Aside from eBooks, have you thought about all the programs, utilities, and so on we use in our every day work? What would you do without them?

Additionally many files that a non-technical user might think are purely "content" (as opposed to programs), can in fact contain executable content of one sort or another (often scripted content). Often, the viewing applications for these formats do contain restrictions, designed to prevent the content performing potentially malicious actions, but even then, "exploits" (which may allow such executable content to break free of these restrictions) have been found from time-to-time in many applications. Sometimes these exploits are the result of bugs in the viewing software, and sometimes as the result of simply tricking users to accept actions (for example in security warning dialog boxes) that they shouldn’t have.

For example:

  • This and this news report from 2001 describe a virus that apparently can travel in PDF files.
  • Another news report from 2004, describes an exploit for Java applets, which allows them to escape from their "sand boxed" (protected and restricted) environment, and potentially get access to other files on users’ PCs.
  • And another news report also from 2004, describes how malicious code was placed on various web servers, and was able to exploit a security flaw in the JavaScript implementation in certain versions of Internet Explorer, to install malicious code on some users’ PCs when they simply browsed those sites.
  • There has even been a virus which spread through Microsoft Word macros.

Now, the particular exploits that are described in those news stories have probably been fixed by now (you’d need to check with the vendors to be sure). And, if you use anti-virus software (such as Norton Internet Security) and keep it up to date, it would help protect you from known viruses. But, the stories also illustrate my point - there could be potential security vulnerabilities in many different file formats.

So, to sum up:

  • For authors:

    EXE files are programs, which as I said gives you a lot of power, but also a lot of responsibility.

  • For users:

    Remember EXE files are programs, and as such, if incorrectly or maliciously programmed (or modified by somebody after they were programmed), could do something you don’t want. You need to bear that in mind when deciding what to download or install on your computer. The other side of the coin is, that if you want an eBook or application with feature X, or do Y, then often EXE is the only choice - because the features you want may not be available in any other format.

    And although EXE files may hit your hot buttons as being a particular security issue, I think that you’d be unwise to simply assume that other file types are automatically safe. As already explained, all you need to be potentially at risk are:

    1. A file of any sort that can contain executable content of any sort (and I have no idea how to list all the file types this might apply to - because there are so many that it could potentially apply too)


    2. A bug in the viewing software that a malicious file can "exploit" (more likely, of course, if you don’t keep up to date with the latest patches and security advice from each application’s vendor).

    So, you’ll need to bear that in mind too, when deciding what to download or install on your computer.

    If you were to take this to its logical extreme, and if you were truly paranoid about security, you’d never install any files on your computer, and you’d disconnect from the Internet right now (because viruses and worms and malicious programs have all been known to spread via email, or in some cases by simply browsing websites using a browser with a security weakness)…. but then how would you get any work done?

    And my final advice? Take regular backups of any data that you can not afford to lose - and keep that at a separate geographic location away from your computer (preferably in a fire-proof safe). This will help protect you not only from computer security threats, but from most other disasters too.


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September 23, 2005

Another Web Hosting Deal - This Time 2 Years Free Hosting

Category: Webmasters/Web Design — Answers 2000 @ 2:28 am

I recently wrote about midPhase’s 2 months of free hosting deal. Well, I received an email from another hosting company today, PowWeb who are offering a range of exceptional deals.

In fact, PowWeb have a choice of 3 special deals on their $7.77/month hosting plan (which includes 5,000 Megabytes storage, a massive 300Gb/month transfer, and a bunch of features). All PowWeb’s deals also come with a free domain name and setup.

  1. Either buy 1 year’s hosting - and get 2 months free. I believe this deal ends at the end of October.
  2. Or, buy 2 year’s hosting - and get 2 years free. I believe this deal also ends at the end of October.
  3. Or, get $5 off any package by entering code "sept05" at the check out. Hurry up if you want this deal - it ends 30 September.

Well, I guess I’ve potentially opened the floodgates and now I’m going to receive email from other hosts about other special deals they offer - in the expectation that I’ll write more stories on those lines. While that ain’t gonna happen - this is going to be my last story about hosting deals for a good while: let’s get back to eBook and Internet publishing!


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September 21, 2005

Activ E-Book Compiler version 5.02 Beta Release - Feedback Required Please!

Category: Company Announcements, eBook Marketing & Publishing — Answers 2000 @ 5:50 pm

The beta program for Activ E-Book Compiler v5 is proceeding, and we’re now on 5.02. Details here.

This version is the best so far, and I think it’s pretty close to being a release candidate. But we need your feedback! If you have found any bugs or problems let me know. If you have not found bugs or problems - also let me know - including what specific features of the compiler you’re using (e.g. passwords, expiry, own table of contents, etc., etc.)! The best way would be to post in the discussion thread, but if you prefer you can email us instead.


• • •

Two months free web hosting

Category: Webmasters/Web Design — Answers 2000 @ 2:38 am

midPhase is offering two months of free hosting (and the chance to win a car). To get the free 2 months, all your have to do is enter a coupon code (see below), when ordering. midPhase’s plans include 5,000Mb of storage, CGI, PHP and MySQL features, $100 of Overture credit, and unmetered* bandwidth. The prices start from US $7.95 per month.

*If you look at the small print at the bottom of the midPhase’s site, it says "Regarding Mega-PHASE, Pro-PHASE, Windows and Windows Pro customers: Some sites may not qualify for Unmetered Bandwidth. In the event that a website does not qualify, the website will be allocated 65-75 GB of bandwidth depending on the package."

That looks like a very good deal to me, even if you don’t qualify for unmetered bandwidth.

Oh yeh, the coupon code - it’s "twomonthsfree". Go to midPhase and sign-up now if you want it. I understand this offer will be ending fairly soon, mid October - I think.


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September 20, 2005

Do hyphenated domains help with search engine ranking?

Category: Internet Marketing, Search Engines — Answers 2000 @ 6:40 am

Conventional "wisdom" is that using a hyphenated domain name such as www.web-site-name.com as opposed to www.websitename.com helps with search engine ranking. I’ve read this "wisdom" in books, in online courses, and repeated numerous times on messages boards. However, I did some experiments and have begun to question whether this conventional "wisdom" is in fact wisdom at all.

Let’s start with the first argument for the conventional "wisdom": Hyphenated domain names allow search engines to recognize each of the separate keywords in your domain name.

Well, from a logical and programming point of view, this argument has never made much sense to me… Search engines are able to spider billions of pages, index them, categorize them, ban spamdex pages, sort the pages by theme, and all sorts of other neat tricks - so I do find it hard to believe that a simple dictionary scan of a domain name for keywords, regardless of whether it contains hyphens or not, is going to be beyond the search engine’s capabilities. Furthermore, I would think being able to properly handle non-hyphenated domain names would be a priority for the search engine’s programmers, given how many important sites don’t use hyphens in their domain names.

In fact, if you go to Google and do a search for merchant account, under each listing is the domain name, and Google, seems to be able to recognize keywords in the domain name (by bolding them) regardless of whether they are separated by hyphens or not.

At the time of writing the top 4 at Google for this search are:

  1. www.merchantexpress.com/
  2. www.usa-merchantaccount.com/
  3. www.monstermerchantaccount.com/
  4. www.merchantaccountforum.com

Notice how Google had no trouble in recognizing the keywords, in numbers 1, 3 and 4? According to conventional "wisdom" that’s supposed to be impossible.

But anyway, even if you consider that all hot air, we can do some more search experiments and see whether hyphenated names tend to predominate the in the results.

For my experiments, I’ve tried to pick super-competitive keywords - you know the ones - the ones that advertisers happily bid an arm and a leg for Overture (now part of Yahoo!) - and for which there are bound to be companies fighting for top positions using just about every conceivable SEO technique. If conventional "wisdom" about hyphens is correct, we ought to see a lot of hyphenated domains in the results for these super-competitive keywords.

Here’s the results of my tests on Google (the rankings are based on results I saw on 20 September 2005 - and I only looked at the top 30).

  • credit card - no hyphenated domains in the top 30
  • debt consolidation - hyphenated domains at positions 9, 11, 16, 27 - only 4 out of 30 results
  • internet marketing - hyphenated domains at positions 7*, 19*, 24* - only 0 or 3 of the results.
  • merchant account - hyphenated domains at positions 2, 6, 12, 19, 20, 25*, 30 - only 6 or 7 out of 30 results.
  • web hosting - no hyphenated results in the top 30 results.

In case you’re wondering why I’ve asterixed some of the items, that’s because they are hyphenated, but the domain names (www.the-dma.org, www.cyber-robotics.com, 1-hit.com - for Internet marketing ; echo-inc.com - for merchant account) don’t have ANY of the keywords in it all! I would not count that as support for the conventional "wisdom" that having your keywords in a hyphenated domain name somehow helps.

So what have we got?

Only 10 cases out of 150 (6.7%) where hyphenated domains containing the keywords were in the top 30. Even if you were to count hyphenated domains not containing keywords (just because they’re hyphenated - as if hyphens by themselves are some kind of magic), and I don’t think you should, it’s still only 14 out 150 (9.3%).

And if we analyze it further, you’ll also notice that the hyphenated domains tend to be lower down the top 30 than their non-hyphenated competitors.

  • If we look at the top 10s only, hyphenated keyworded domains, scored just 3 out 50 (6%)
  • If we look at the top 5s only, hyphenated keyworded domains, scored only 1 out of 25 (4%)
  • And if we look at just the top results - there are no hyphenated keyword domain names at rank 1.

So does that mean hyphenated domains are a total blow out?

Well I can’t go quite that far:

  • While I could find no evidence that hyphenated domains helped (they didn’t predominate in the results), I couldn’t really find any evidence that they hindered either.
  • So far, I’ve only looked at Google.
  • So far, I’ve only looked at a limited number of searches. So, I can’t say whether results would be the same for different searches (unless Google is kind enough to send me an affidavit telling me what their ranking algorithm is!)
  • And, finally, if you were to look at the results by whether they contain keywords or not: I think you’d find keyworded domains (whether or not hyphenated) did do pretty well. Which means, that having your keywords in your domain name, does look like it helps. And if you can’t find any good available domain name with your keywords and without hyphens, maybe a hyphenated one would do?

I’ll hopefully return to this subject in a future post, but in the meantime, don’t forget your domain name, is only 1 factor that affects your ranking. How you design your pages (on-page factors) and who links to your (off-page factors) is also important, more important, and you can use tools like SEO Elite or Web Position to help with that.


• • •

September 18, 2005

Version 5.01 Beta Release + Version 5 How To’s

Category: Company Announcements, eBook Marketing & Publishing — Answers 2000 @ 5:36 am

Version 5.01 of Activ E-Book Compiler is now available as a beta release. This supersedes the version 5.00 release. Details here.

The only real change is that 5.01 can be used with language files (e.g. translations to French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc.) that have been prepared with version 4.22 of the compiler. We’ve set up a web page which explains which language files are compatible with which compiler versions.

We’ve also posted some tutorials on using the new features in version 5:-


• • •

Italian Translation of Activ E-Book Compiler

Category: Company Announcements, eBook Marketing & Publishing — Answers 2000 @ 4:12 am

As you may be aware it is possible (see Advanced Features in our Help) to translate the menus/dialogs/etc. in eBooks created with Activ E-Book Compiler. Many of our users have been kind enough to share the translations that they have prepared. There’s a new addition to the arsenal: an Italian translation courtesy of Elisabetta Petroni. For information and download instructions please go to http://www.ebookcode.com/templates/italian422.htm.


• • •

September 17, 2005

Advanced Multimedia Extension 5.02 for Activ E-Book Compiler Released

Category: Company Announcements, eBook Marketing & Publishing — Answers 2000 @ 7:02 am

We have just released version 5.02 of the Advanced Multimedia Extension for Activ E-Book Compiler. This allows you to create eBooks containing video (including full screen video), and sophisticated multimedia features. If you would like to see a demo, go here to download it.

If you purchased a previous version, log-in at the member’s page, and you can get the upgrade free.

And if you want to discuss it? We’ve started a discussion thread on our forum.


• • •

September 16, 2005

Free eBook: 117 Ways To Increase Web Site Traffic

Category: eBook Marketing & Publishing, Internet Marketing — Answers 2000 @ 1:58 am

We’ve go a new free eBook: 117 Ways To Increase Web Site Traffic. In this eBook, you’ll find lots of ideas for promoting your site, and we also allow you to distribute copies (rebranded with your affiliate links) from your web site. For detailed information and download instructions, please click here.


• • •

September 13, 2005

Activ E-Book Compiler Version 5 goes Beta

Category: Company Announcements, eBook Marketing & Publishing — Answers 2000 @ 7:24 pm

We’ve just released the first beta of version 5 of Activ E-Book Compiler (our most popular software product ). The new version adds a whole host of features including tons of new scripting features, enhancements to rebranding so you can password protect individual rebrandable fields separately, and a lot more.

You can see the finalized full list of improvements and updates in version 5: here.

And if you want to download and try out the new beta version: go here for instructions.

Of course, if you’ve never tried Activ E-Book Compiler and haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about, I’d suggest you don’t worry about the beta release right now: instead use the full-release version which you can find out about, as normal, at EBookCompiler.com


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